What Does the Farm Bill Have To Do with Wildlife?

That’s what my family and friends ask me when I try to describe my work at National Wildlife Federation.  This is what I tell them:

The Farm Bill is one of the most important laws helping farmers protect and enhance wildlife habitat on private lands in America.  It’s a massive piece of legislation that has been around a long time in different forms and comes up for reauthorization in Congress about every 5 years.

The last Farm Bill passed in 2008 and expires in 2012 – so this year, Congress should reauthorize the Farm Bill in order to ensure stable funding and consistent delivery of the conservation programs it contains.

Most Farm Bill spending actually goes to nutrition. The little green slice of the pie that goes to conservation may not look like much, but that 9% can go a long way, and it provides considerable return to taxpayers, by ensuring that land and natural resources are preserved for the future. (The estimates in the pie chart are based on data from the Congressional Research Service.)

How Does 9% of the Farm Bill Work for Wildlife?

Most of the money from Farm Bill conservation programs like the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provide funds to protect valuable wildlife habitat from being converted to production, restore marginal farmlands to habitat, and share  the cost of Best Management Practices (BMPs) with landowners to help protect wildlife, water quality, and soil quality on working farm lands.

Many wildlife species depend on habitat on private lands to survive.  Farm Bill conservation land retirement programs combined provide about 33 million acres of wildlife habitat; that is more than National Wildlife Refuge lands, which total around 26 million acres (minus Alaska).

Greater Sage Grouse, credit USFWS/Stephen Ting
In some western states, for example, farmers, ranchers and landowners are working with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to increase the greater Sage Grouse population.  Sage Grouse populations are in decline and run the risk of being listed as endangered — read more here.  To prevent this decline, farmers are using Farm Bill funds to maintain cover for nesting birds, remove or mark fences to prevent grouse from flying into barbed wire, and seed burned rangeland to bring back nesting grounds for Sage Grouse.

That is why it is important for wildlife enthusiasts, lawmakers, farmers, and all Americans to support continued and increased funding for conservation programs in the 2012 Farm Bill.  Learn more about how Farm Bill programs can help protect wildlife.